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Young children claiming their connection with nonhuman nature in their schoolground


Four-year-old children express an authentic need for connecting with nonhuman nature in their schoolground

Researchers working with an environmental education program in a day nursery in Greece examined whether the connection with nonhuman nature was an authentic need of children attending the program. The researchers also examined ways in which the children were involved in naturalizing their schoolground.

Fifteen four-year-old children worked collaboratively with adults in planning and creating a more natural schoolground, where nonhuman nature (plants, animals, soil, etc.) was the main element. The aim of the project was to not only connect children to the outdoor environment but to actively involve them in the planning process and to explore the potential of young children to actively participate in improving their immediate environment. Action research methods were used in implementing and analyzing the program over the period of one-school year. Children actively participated throughout the entire process, which included three action research cycles: a) identifying children’s needs and ideas and developing a collaborative vision; b) creating a scale model, presenting children’s ideas to the school community, and discussing idea with adults; and c) participating in changes to the schoolyard. Strategies used for soliciting children’s ideas during the planning stage included brainstorming, photography, walks in the schoolground, drawings and discussions. Children’s ideas for improving the schoolgrounds included adding nonhuman nature, consisting of natural elements (water, soil) and nonhuman beings (trees, flowers, dogs, birds, snails, fish, ants). Their actions in changing the schoolgrounds included planting flowers, constructing bird feeders, and providing food and water for animals.

Data analyzed for this study were based on student and teacher interviews, artifacts created by the children, and the teacher/researcher research diary. The analysis included examining children’s connection with nonhuman nature, as expressed in what they desired and what they claimed. Findings showed that children had an instinctive interest in and strong feelings for plants, animals, and natural elements. Findings also showed that children’s involvement in this project promoted greater environmental awareness and that young children can be empowered to plan and implement meaningful changes to their environment.

This study suggests that children have an authentic need for connection with nonhuman nature in their school environment. The researchers used these research findings to develop a set of recommendations and guidelines for a place-based approach to environmental education with young children. These recommendations and guidelines are included in this report.


Tsevreni, I., Tigka, A., (2018). Young children claiming their connection with nonhuman nature in their schoolground. Children, Youth and Environments, 28(1), 119-127.


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